The Phillips Family of Hastings

John Phillips‘s parentage had been an early brick wall in my research, as there was no father’s name given on his marriage certificate when he married Frances Vidler in December 1841 (I checked both the GRO and parish versions of the certificate just to make sure, as I’ve had another case in my tree where the two certificates differed in detail). I’d assumed that this meant that he was illegitimate and had searched for bastardy orders and a baptism for a John son of a Phillips mother, but found nothing.

Another notable thing about John and Frances’s marriage certificate was that the wedding took place in Guestling, a parish with which neither party appeared to have any other association. In three other cases in my family tree where such a marriage took place a birth was either imminent or had recently occurred, and John and Frances’s son John Richard was born five months later. So earlier this year I thought that possibly John didn’t provide his father’s name to avoid questions being asked in his home parish, and it was worth looking for the baptism of a legitimate John.

Going by Familysearch.org there were three John Phillipses baptised in Hastings between 1818 and 1820. (There were a *lot* of Phillipses in Hastings.) There were two of the right sort of age in the 1841 census living in Hastings. One of them, the son of William and Elizabeth, was a shoemaker, and John was a cordwainer when he married Frances later that year, but I found that John living with the same siblings in subsequent censuses, so was able to eliminate him from my enquiries. The other John wasn’t living with people with the same surname; he was working at the Common Gaol (and in fact is listed twice as the Gaol was included as both a building on the High Street and as an institution). I began to focus on John son of John and Ann Phillips, baptised at All Saints, Hastings in November 1819, as a candidate.

John Phillips had married Ann Wenham at St Clement’s, Hastings in 1812. Ann Wenham had a sister Lucy Wenham; John and Frances’s eldest daughter was baptised Lucy Ann. Ann also had another sister, Grace Wenham, and when I looked back at the 1861 census entry for John and Frances I’d added to my database years ago there was Grace, listed as a lodger. Frances was the informant on the certificate when Grace died five years later. Although I’m slightly surprised that the relationship was given as ‘Lodger’ instead of ‘Aunt’ in the census, similarly although it’s likely that the Ann Phillips living with Lucy Wenham and her husband in 1851 was Lucy’s niece Anne Grace Phillips the relationship was given as ‘Serv.’. And as my husband commented, it doesn’t seem very likely that one of the unrelated John Phillipses would have been living with John’s aunt! However, I still have no document which confirms that John husband of Frances was the same person as John son of John Phillips and Anne Wenham. So I have tentatively linked them, and hope that a DNA match may confirm the link in future.*

Now I hoped to be able to take my Phillips line further back – perhaps I would find a Phillips ancestor who was actually from Wales! John the father of the John baptised in 1819 was a fisherman, and Googling for ‘”John Phillips” fisherman Hastings’ turned up a link to the Hastings Chronicle website’s report of a tragedy on 5 February 1841 when a John Phillips was one of six men who died when their Hastings-based fishing boat was lost off the coast of Devon.

The master of the boat was named Thomas Coppard/Copper (the spelling varies between newspaper reports) and his son William was also lost. When transcribing the baptisms of John and Ann’s children, I noticed that the entry right after Anne Grace’s was for a William Copper, son of Thomas (a fisherman) and Anne, and knowing of the connection between John, Thomas and William I decided to include it in my site. Normally before I put in a baptism I look for the parents’ marriage but on this occasion I thought ‘oh, they’ll just be neighbours’, and nearly didn’t bother looking. Jennifer, write it out a hundred times: IT’S ALWAYS WORTH LOOKING. Anne’s maiden name was Phillips. The 1851 and 1861 censuses show her as being born in Hastings in about 1784; the registers of St Clement’s record the baptism of an Ann daughter of John and Ann Phillips in July 1783.

So it’s possible John Phillips the fisherman was brother to Ann wife of Thomas Coppard, but I have no evidence of when or where he was born or whether she did have a brother named John. I looked for a death certificate for John Phillips in both Sussex and Devon but found nothing, nor for any of the other men named in the newspaper reports. I posted a question on the Sussex Family History Group Facebook group asking if deaths of fisherman at sea were certified in the usual fashion and the general opinion was that no body = no death certificate. I found no burial either, and without a death certificate or burial entry I have no evidence of how old John was when he died. I haven’t found any other baptisms in Hastings that could be Ann’s sibling, nor have I found a definitive marriage for her parents (they could possibly have been the John Phillips and Ann Stapley married in Mayfield in 1773, for whom I haven’t found any child baptisms).

So I’ve not yet found any Welsh Phillipses, and have hit another brick wall in the search for them. But I remain hopeful – brick walls can tumble!

*Since submitting my DNA to Ancestry.co.uk in April this year I’ve so far had matches that confirm three of my tentative identifications: Sarah Sales, John Moon and Margaret Perrow.

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